Husband’s dying wish led to a volunteer career spanning 20 years

People of Collingwood: Deborah Keep, recipient of Companion to the Order of Collingwood

EDITORS’ NOTE: This column is the last in a series featuring the recipients of this year’s Order of Collingwood and Companion to the Order of Collingwood.

Over the years, Deborah Keep has served on many local nonprofit boards, bringing her grant writing skills to many of Collingwood’s major charities.

For this week’s issue of People of Collingwood we spoke with Keep, 64, recipient of a Companion to the Order of Collingwood.

Q: How long have you lived in Collingwood?

A: I moved here in 1994.

Q: When did you move here and why?

A: I grew up in Montreal. I attended Queen’s University for a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry.

I had a job in Toronto, then Calgary, then Kingston. I went and got my Masters degree at Queen’s, and in Belgium via exchange.

When I graduated I got a job in Mississauga.

While I was working in Mississauga, I met a man who lived in Collingwood. I decided I wanted to be there with him and moved on.

I’m chasing a man. (laugh)

Q: What is your occupation?

A: Well, I live in Collingwood full time with my husband, and I work constantly in Mississauga and back and forth.

I work for General Electric on their senior management team.

Q: Are you retired now?

A: I retired in 2002. It was a long time ago.

Q: Can you describe your volunteer experience here?

A: Whether I live in Calgary, Kingston or elsewhere, I’m always looking for volunteer opportunities. When I worked for General Electric, one of the presidents was very involved in the United Way and he hired me.

When I worked in Mississauga, it was difficult for me to do a lot of volunteer work in Collingwood.

When I retire I look for opportunities to volunteer here.

It started with the Collingwood Elvis Festival. I saw something in the paper that they were looking for volunteers. I watch for opportunities. I saw an ad for My Friend’s Home looking for board members.

My husband died in 2001. At that time, Collingwood and the District Humane Society (now the Georgian Triangle Humane Society) were building an animal shelter.

He has cancer so my husband knew he was going. His one request was that he would like to see an animal shelter built in Collingwood. After she died, I contacted them and started working with them on fundraising for a capital fund to build a shelter.

It’s just one thing after another. People will contact me and ask for help with this or that. I work my way.

I’m on the My Friends House board. Then with a humane society. I also serve on the board of the Collingwood Theatre.

I was skiing with a girlfriend who works with Elephant Thoughts so I looked them up and ended up being a seat on that board for a very long time.

If you are looking for opportunities to help people in the community, they will find you.

Q: What prompted you to volunteer your time specifically for this cause?

A: For me, it’s more about who is involved.

When I met with the people on the then Collingwood Theater board, I was impressed with the people (on the board). They are smart, funny and caring. I thought, I want to work with these people.

With the Mind of Elephants, when I read about them, I am blown away by the things they have accomplished. I love working with their executive director and other board members.

I’m co-chair now with Home Horizon.

I vote because people voted for me. I have experience writing for grants (applications). When people ask me for help, and I can help… I go with them.

Q: How did you feel when you learned that you had been selected to receive a Companion to the Order of Collingwood this year?

A: I am fascinated and excited. Companions come after getting the Order. The Order (from Collingwood) is a big deal.

When I got the Order, many people I know had already received it. I really admire and respect them.

Funny story – In 2014 (when I received my Order), we had an incident on our unplowed road and there was a big snowstorm. I have to attend a board meeting, and I can’t get out on the street. I’ve been raving about it with my neighbors while we were shoveling. Someone suggested I call then-Mayor Sandra Cooper to plow the streets and we all laughed.

I managed to go to the meeting. Once I got home – I literally was in the house for 10 minutes – and my phone rang and it was Sandra Cooper.

I immediately thought, “Which neighbor used my name?!”

He called about my election to the Order of Collingwood.

It’s great to get Companions because there are so few people who have them, but getting Order initially surprised me. This is the icing on the cake.

Q: Do you have any other hobbies you’d like to talk about?

A: I ski. I’m in Mont Tremblant now. I have a house here where I spend time. I attend my board meetings via Zoom.

Skiing and golf are my two big things. I love gardening. I went for a walk with friends. I like being active. It drives me crazy sitting around doing nothing. I’m not good at that.

Q: What’s your future like?

A: I don’t see myself slowing down. I excel at busyness.

What upcoming opportunities will make my adopted home in Collingwood a better place?

I started my own foundation about seven years ago so I could invest in Collingwood too, and I run the foundation. I see myself continuing until I am no longer able or wanted.

For our People of Collingwood feature, we spoke to interesting people who come from or contribute to the Collingwood community in some way, letting them tell their own stories in their own words. This feature runs on CollingwoodToday every weekend. If you’d like to nominate or suggest someone to be featured in People of Collingwood, email [email protected]

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